“Days of Wine and Roses”

Henry Mancini was born in 1924 and Johnny Mandel the following year. They both joined big bands just as the big-band era was ending–Mancini as a pianist and arranger and Mandel as a trumpet player, trombonist, and arranger. Their paths diverged in the ’50s, as Mancini went to Hollywood and began scoring films, while Mandel stayed with jazz, doing the charts for, among lots of others, Frank SInatra’s Ring-a-Ding-Ding! LP. But he, too, ultimately answered Hollywood’s call. and he’s been out there since the ’60s, not making much music anymore, but providing immense help to scholars and writers and anyone who’s lucky enough, as I was while researching The B-Side, to talk to him. (Mancini died in 1994.)

Mancini and Mandel were among the last composers to write the sort of song referred to as “jazz standards”–songs like (the earlier) “I Got Rhythm” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “There Will Never Be Another You.” I’ll eventually get  to writing a post on Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” (1966), but today’s Mancini’s day and, in keeping with the jazz idea, instead of “Moon River,” “Charade,” or the underrated “Two for the Road,” the spotlight is on another movie theme, “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962).

It’s a strange song. Johnny Mercer (also lyricist for “Moon River”) was deep in his surrealistic phase. Other than the word “wine,” his lyric not only doesn’t have anything to do with the movie–a melodrama about alcoholism starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick–it’s hard to know what it has to do with. The entire song is just two sentences:

The days of wine and roses laugh and run away, like a child at play,
Through the meadow land toward a closing door,
A door marked “nevermore” that wasn’t there before.
The lonely night discloses just a passing breeze, filled with memories,
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you.
But it works, as does Mancini’s melody, which stands up to the tens of thousands of solos jazz musicians have played on it over the years. The clip I’ve chosen features the wonderful Bill Evans on piano, Toots Thielemans on harmonica, and Larry Schneider on sax. It doesn’t get any better.
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